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Knowing When To Take A Break From Your Writing, by Phillipa Fioretti

I’ve had a spurt of intense writing for the last two or three months but last night I knew I’d hit the dead zone. The dead zone is a place where you no longer care about your characters, your plot problems, your research or your structure. It’s a place where you want to be left alone to stare at a wall and cut pictures out of magazines when you get sick of the wall. It’s the zone of exhaustion.

It’s important to recognise it as exhaustion and not panic. Your ideas and imagination have not deserted you. They will return. You are not done as a writer. I think you can only know this by experiencing the roller coaster that is the writing life, once you’ve risen from your slump, phoenix-like, with a newly sharpened pencil and a feverish look in your eye, two or three times. Then you know it’s nothing to worry about.

You shouldn’t worry but it’s important to pay attention. There’s a lot of pressure to get instant results these days. With the rise of self-publishing and the short shelf life of books we writers can get a bit panicky if we aren’t banging out four thousand words a day. If you’re exhausted you need to step away from the manuscript and do something else.

I believe in writing through writers’ block but not in pushing on in the face of utter fatigue, because you simply emerge with an inferior manuscript. If you are on a deadline with a publishing house then that’s a different game. You have a deadline. There is an editor waiting to catch your words and help get them into shape. If you are writing on spec or for self-publishing stepping away for a few weeks is the best thing to do.

This break will refill the creative soda stream and give you an invaluable distance from the work, which will allow you to go back in and see all the shocking mistakes you never guessed were there when you had your nose pressed up against it.

It works like the ‘busy book’ they have in some primary schools. Give the kids something to do, create the illusion of forward movement, (just in case some pesky parent drops in unannounced). That’s all it is: an illusion. If you aren’t getting anywhere then down tools.

It feels like you’re doing nothing, a scary feeling, because we are committed to building our careers, author platforms, marketing plans and all the other stuff that looks down its nose at the flagrant doing of nothing. By doing nothing you are doing your manuscript and yourself a favour.


Phillipa Fioretti’s author website:

Phillipa Fioretti’s bio page


The Book of LoveThe Fragment of Dreams     The Indigo SkyBurning LiesRotten Gods by Greg Barron - Australian novelistAll This Could End

Writing Novels in Australia

5 Comments Post a comment
  1. Respect for your creative process, even biological cycle- isn’t it like a power nap?
    Yes, good to be reminded we are human and not robots….

    September 16, 2013
  2. It’s the fallow times that often produce the best creative work, I think. As you say, Julie, it’s about respecting the process in the face of the escalating time demands of contemporary life.

    September 17, 2013
  3. Lia #

    Excellent article, Phillipa. I’m almost at burn-out stage with my current work in progress, and very thankful that I don’t have a deadline on it. I’m aiming to take two weeks off and spend that time refuelling with poetry, films and music – basically anything that’s not a manuscript! (And I love the phrase ‘creative soda stream’ – just perfect.)

    September 21, 2013
  4. Have a good break, Lia. It’s a liberating feeling to pack it all away and forget. And you know you’ll be straining at the leash to get back to it!

    September 21, 2013

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